Wage Slaves Defined


Wage Slaves Defined
from 'Industrial Worker', January 1983, page 8

Newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) http://iww.org/

James P. Thompson was a famous IWW speaker. In 1930 he wrote down one of his favorite soapbox illustrations in the pamphlet 25 Years of Industrial Unionism:


To illustrate what a wage slave is, suppose you owned a nice automobile and someone should say to you, "I want to use your car until it is all worn out. I will give it gas and oil enough to keep it running until it can't run anymore." Surely you would not agree to that. You wouldn't allow anybody to use your car until it was all worn out just for gas and oil.

But, mark you well, if you are a wage worker that is what you are doing with your body. The capitalists use you until you are all worn out, and all they aim to give you is what the chattel slaves got, what the serfs got, what a horse gets, a bare living, and you are not even sure of that. How about your children? You parents spend many happy hours teaching your children how to walk and how to talk. Long years are spent upon their education. When they get to be wonderful young men and women with their eyes brightly shining like the headlights on a new car, and with their veins and arteries like the wiring on a new car, and their hearts beating without a murmur, like the smooth running of new engines, then the capitalists say to the proud parents, "We want to use your children to produce wealth for us and for our children. Just as we have used you to produce wealth for us, so our children want to use your children to produce wealth for them when we are gone."

The parents ask, "What are our children to get for the use of their bodies during the precious years of their lives?" Answer, "Gas and oil." A mere living wage. The endless chain that starts and ends with work. Work to get money, to buy food, to get strength to work. Every increase in the productivity of labor, every invention, every victory of science and triumph of genius in the line of industrial progress, only goes to increase the wealth of a parasite class while the workers are only supposed to get what slave classes always got, a bare living and often not even that. This is wage slavery, the foundation of capitalism.